Time running out for convicted exterminator's murder appeal

Steve Tawa
January 18, 2019 - 12:14 pm
Jason Smith

Philadelphia Police Department


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The exterminator who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for strangling a doctor and setting her body on fire in her Center City home in 2013 is nearing the end of the line for exhausting his appeal.

Pennsylvania's Post-Conviction Relief Act, often referred to as the PCRA, allows defendants serving a sentence to challenge their conviction.

Jason Smith, who was convicted in 2015 of first-degree murder in the strangulation of Philadelphia pediatrician Dr. Melissa Ketunuti, claims that his confession came after detectives roughed him up.

During the trial, Judge Sandy Byrd denied a defense motion to suppress statements that Smith gave to police — first, a so-called "blurt out" to the Fugitive Strike Force when he was arrested. That's when he said "she was alive when I left her home." Then, that second confession to detectives, in the homicide unit.

Now, his defense lawyer has filed what is called a "Finley no merit letter." That means his own lawyer found the defendant had no credible claims to raise in a PCRA. Smith has 20 days to respond, after which the case could be formally dismissed.